Xujiahui Catholic Church is a famous Chinese Catholic church, and is the headquarter Catholic church in Shanghai, with the formal name the “St. Ignatius Cathedral of Shanghai”. It was founded in the late Qing 22 years (A.D. 1896), French medieval style. The lobby top is flanked by the gothic belfries and spires, 50 meters high. The statue of Madonna holding the baby Jesus in the hall was made in Paris 1919 and then transported to Shanghai. The church has now been listed as the Shanghai cultural protection relic. Xujiahui Catholic church can accommodate more than 3000 Catholics for activities. The church congregation of this parish is tens of thousands at present. There are a Bishop Mansion for the Shanghai Catholic Parish and a Convent at the side of the church. Every morning, it has many sets of mass, and every Sunday or the important Catholic festivals, it is full of parishioners.
Xujiahui Cathedral is a church modeled after a Western architectural style. With a total length of 83.3 meters, it sits west and faces east. Two wings at the widest point of the church measure 34 meters. Its hall ridge is 26 meters high, and the tower building is 56 meters high. Xujiahui Cathedral can hold about 3,000 people with seats for activities while it can accommodate over 4,000 people in its fullest capacity. Its outside shape is like a long cross, modeled after French medieval Gothic architecture. With red brick walls, white stone pillars and a gray slate roof, the two bell towers in front of the church are 60 meters high (the spire is 31 meters high). The magnificent and solemn bell towers have a north-south confrontation and are towering structures. Xujiahui Cathedral was honored as the best building in Shanghai at that time because of its huge size, attractive architectural style and exquisite workmanship. It was once the highest building in Shanghai, before the 1920s.
Xujiahui Cathedral was the first Catholic Church in Shanghai after the Opium War. At the beginning of the 17th century, Western missionaries started their religious activities in Shanghai. In 1640, the first official Catholic Church was built; however, the church was of a Chinese temple-styled architecture. It was changed into the Temple of Guan Yu when Emperor Yongzheng of the Qing Dynasty gave orders to ban missionary activities.
In the past, Xujiahui was a small village which was sparsely populated. Xu Guangqi, an outstanding patriotic scientist and Catholic of the Ming Dynasty, was buried there. After the First Opium War (in 1841), the Catholic Jesuits came to Shanghai. Five years later, their church club was built in Xujiahui District, Shanghai. The combination of this church club and the church built in 1851 made the first church with a Western architectural style in China, which was the old Xujiahui Cathedral. Later the monastery, the museum, the library, the observatory, the Notre Dame and the foundling home were established, which became the Xujiahui Cathedral parish and the central missionary area in regions south of the Yangtze River. In 1896, the Jesuits decided to build a new cathedral and the new church was put into use in 1904. When the new church was completed, the patron saint of the parish was still St. Ignatius. Thus it was named St. Ignatius Cathedral.
The First National Bishop Conference of Catholicism in China was held there in 1924. At the beginning of the Anti-Japanese War, Xuhui Lobby and College St. Ignatius set up refuges to accept tens of thousands of refugees.
During the Cultural Revolution, the church was damaged. The pinnacle of its bell towers was demolished while the stained glass window of the church was smashed to pieces. The church became the warehouse of the Shanghai Fruit and Grocery Company, which wasn’t restored until 1978.
Nowadays, there are tens of thousands of church members in the Catholic community and a lot of Mass is held every morning. Numerous church members gather together every Sunday and at every significant festival of Catholicism.
The church is open to ordinary visitors between 13:00 and 16:00 on Saturdays and between 14:00 and 16:00 on Sundays when volunteers will take them to visit the church every 30 minutes.